The CSGO community contended with a massive blowout this weekend when ESL revealed invites for Season 11 of ESL Pro League, confirming rumors that it had relegated 24 teams from the popular circuit to Mountain Dew League.
ESL did not inform the transferred teams of the change beforehand, sparking mass outrage and kicking off CSGO’s whirlwind weekend.
On January 25, Twitter became a heated battlefield among the who’s who of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. A tweet from tournament organizer ESL was at the center of the turmoil, but the league’s North American rival “B Site,” as well as an advisor to the Counter-Strike: Professional Players Association and various professional players, soon became embroiled in the conflict.
Many of those that engaged in Friday’s Twitter tiff are veterans of a competitive Counter-Strike scene that turned twenty last October. Grudges, personal crusades, and bad actors have occasionally marked its history, but CSGO hadn’t seen a public show like this weekend’s in some time.
Tournament organizer ESL is Counter-Strike’s premier live event producer. Including ESL One RIO, ESL has produced seven out of 16 Valve Majors and runs the majority of CSGO’s most popular tournaments. ESL One Cologne, IEM Katowice, and ESL Pro League are all produced by ESL.
B Site is a brand new CSGO league owned and operated by the teams that pay the league’s $2M buy-in. Cloud9 and Immortals Gaming Company are the two influential teams behind the B Site project. Dan Fiden, president of Cloud9, has functioned as a spokesperson for B Site since last week’s interview with CSGO insider Richard Lewis.
Along with Fiden, esports personality Duncan “Thorin” Shields is working with B Site as a Producer, Content Creator, and on-camera personality.
Counter-Strike Professional Players’ Association
The CSPPA is an association of professional CSGO players dedicated to “securing the best possible working conditions for [CSGO] players.”
The CSPPA was formed in 2018 in response to players’ anger over the Professional Esports Association’s attempt to create an exclusive CSGO league. The league would have been owned by participating teams.
While not directly involved this weekend, a third tournament organizer is worth mentioning for context. BLAST Entertainment, a spinoff of the now-defunct RFRSH Entertainment, also exerts influence over the ultimate talent grab that ESL and B Site are involved in. BLAST has already booked teams for their BLAST Premier Spring Series and avoided much of the drama of the past month by locking teams in early.
At around 9 a.m. PST on Friday, ESL announced it had offered ESL Pro League invitations to 24 teams. The tweet confirmed rumors that ESL had altered the format for ESL Pro League and cut out half of the tournament’s original 48 teams from Season 10. Additionally, it was not immediately apparent the announcement was simply a list of invitees. At first glance, many thought ESL was announcing EPL’s confirmed teams.
The bigger issue became clear when member players of demoted teams realized that ESL had failed to inform them of the change before releasing its congratulatory tweet. As the community railed against ESL, B Site authorized Thorin to announce that the league had decided to add an additional six-figure sum to B Site’s prize pool.
Thorin provided no indication about where the extra funds were drawn from. With teams left out of EPL now missing huge swathes of revenue, the chance at a slice of B Site’s prize might be enough to incentivize teams to leave ESL Pro League and MDL. The community would find out later that none of the listed teams in ESL’s announcement had necessarily actually executed contracts with ESL.
Both before and after the posting of the video, Thorin was involved in several altercations with Counter-Strike: Global Offensive pro players, along with another involving CSPPA advisor Scott “Sir Scoots” Smith. Thorin has since deleted the tweets and publically apologized for his behavior. Thorin has not retracted his tweets criticizing ESL.
Throughout Friday evening, more and more people within the community were drawn to the dispute as the players on the teams cut from EPL were left to grapple with the loss of their earned EPL spots. The cut comes packaged with a substantial revenue loss for the organizations and their players. CSGO pros ranging from Natus Vincere’s Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev to Kaleb “moose” Jayne fired off their own takes
In the most pivotal twist of the affair, Thorin, clad in a C9 shirt while representing B Site, released a video on Twitter revealing that B Site owners would add an additional six-figure sum to the B Site prize pool while also slamming ESL and touting B Site’s open qualifier system. It appears that B Site authorized the additional prize money to entice relegated teams to abandon ESL for B Site using Thorin’s cult status to deliver the message.
Thorin also noted that the prize money was a new development and was not planned prior to ESL’s announcement.
“Well, I spoke to the guys from the B Site project, the owners, the head management people, we already planned on putting on a free online qualifier with worldwide implications for teams to qualify for the B Site Project, and so we’ve decided to put additional money into that prize purse which they will confirm so [the relegated teams have something to play for],” Thorin said.
Cloud9 president Dan Fiden also involved himself, reaching out to Braxton “swag” Pierce in what could be considered either a helping hand or a potential talent grab. As a member of one of the 24 teams that ESL removed from Pro League, swag was personally affected by ESL’s move on Friday.
The tweet from Fiden has since been deleted.
By Saturday morning, nearly all involved had retreated. Thorin deleted his incendiary tweets directed at chrisj, SirScoots, and the CSPPA and tweeted an apology. ESL has remained quiet after its controversial announcement. CSGO’s twitter landscape has calmed down, for now.
Fans still know precious little about B Site’s next move. What is known comes from esports insider Richard Lewis’ podcast “By the Numbers” featuring Fiden and Thorin. In the episode, both Thorin and Fiden revealed they were part of B Site, but neither laid claim to an official title in the league.
An official reveal is most likely planned, but the infighting between tournament organizers isn’t appealing to potential investors or sponsors. Several reports note that brands are already wary of putting money into Counter-Strike esports due to its realistic depiction of violence.
EPL’s format change could be an indicator that organizers are having trouble fielding a roster of teams competent enough to warrant the viewership and sponsorships necessary to support both tournaments organizer’s circuits. Friday’s altercation characterizes CSGO’s ongoing tournament wars, in which organizers seek to claim the best teams for themselves while attacking and potentially sabotaging each other.
Simple scheduling is one tactic organizers are using to skirt Valves’ ban on exclusivity. B Site’s leak was accompanied by only two pieces of information: Both Cloud9 and MiBR were involved, and its dates would overlap and conflict with ESL Pro League’s. Both circuits have been confirmed to start in March 2020.
This scheduling creates soft exclusivity in which teams participating in one league aren’t contractually prevented from participating in others. Instead, the tournament dates simply make competing in both impossible. Thorin confirmed that B Site teams and talent would be unavailable for EPL earlier this week on Twitter, calling the conflict a “talent war.”
Most everyone seemed to walk away from the drama unhappy. Ultimately, Friday showed that CSGO is changing quickly with little regard for those it leaves behind.
With ESL and B Site locked in a fight that will last some time, BLAST Premier has managed to avoid such conflict with its rivals thanks to its early dates and a plan that locked in top-tier teams already having been made last year. For now, BLAST Premier seems content to watch and wait until it’s spring season kicks off on January 31 in London, England.